April 8

GUEST CURATOR:  Maia Campbell

What was advertised in a colonial newspaper 250 years ago this week?

Apr 8 - 4:7:1766 Newport Mercury
Newport Mercury (April 7, 1766).

“A FARM in Bristol, containing about 140 Acres of good Land.”

I find interesting the way in which the American colonies and European countries sometimes diverged economically in the eighteenth century. In my Western Civilization course, we have discussed the beginnings of the Industrial Revolution. In Great Britain, where the revolution started, James Hargreaves invented the spinning jenny in 1764, revolutionizing the speed at which cotton could be spun. In that same decade Richard Arkwright introduced his water frame, which harnessed waterpower, resulting in water-powered factories that could produce mass amounts of textiles. People began to flock to the cities and abandon their farmlands. As farming became more technological and less profitable, jobs in the cities, especially in factories, opened up.

However, in America, such was not the case – yet. Farms and farmland were still highly valuable in the British colonies. Even when the Industrial Revolution reached America, the government would still encourage people to go west and start their own farms. The advertised farm has everything that a farmer could need to produce for the market and provide for his family.

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ADDITIONAL COMMENTARY:  Carl Robert Keyes

Urban areas in America increasingly grew during the eighteenth century. Existing cities – Boston, New York, Philadelphia, and Charleston – expanded, while others – such as Baltimore – emerged as population centers and hubs of commerce in their own right. Still, as Maia explains, the Industrial Revolution did not arrive in North America as quickly as it did in Europe. Factories that employed new technologies discussed popped up in New England by the end of the century, but they were not part of the colonial landscape in the 1760s.

That does not mean that rural areas remained untouched. Note the many ways in which this advertisement demonstrates that colonists shaped the land on which they lived and worked. In addition to the town of Bristol, an “East Road” cut through the landscape. The farm for sale included a “House, Barn, and Cribb, &c.” These buildings certainly modified the landscape. The property had been “Fenced with about 1200 Rods of Stone Wall,” a significant change to the landscape. How much of the land devoted to “Meadow, Pasture, and Tillage” existed in such a state before colonists arrived? How much of it had been cleared by colonists?

Sometimes we assume that major changes to the environment occurred only in recent times, only after the United States fully engaged in the Industrial Revolution. This real estate advertisement, however, lists a variety of ways in which colonists reshaped the landscape to suit their own needs. Those who lived in rural areas did not reside in an undisturbed natural world. Instead, they engaged in a process of simultaneously adapting to the land and adapting the land as they desired.